Sexy or Slutty? Why Do We Have This Conversation Every Year?
Get ready, everyone. It’s Halloween time, and there’s a new costume you absolutely must get for your female loved one: the Sexy Fidget Spinner. That’s right! Instead of twirling your fidget spinner alone at your desk, you can reach over to your girl and flick the fidget spinners on her girls. And aside from a skimpy silver bodysuit, that’s really all there is to the costume. The best part is that this interactive costume idea will bring up everyone’s favorite debate come Halloween: Are such skin-tight, barely there costumes actually sexy, or just slutty? Such has been an ever-present question since Halloween costumes took an R-rated turn in the 1970s.
Revelers have been costuming on Halloween for centuries, but in 1973, at New York’s annual Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village, something changed. What was originally a house-to-house procession between family and friends bloomed into a neighborhood party in a dominantly gay neighborhood. According to Slate, this brought out drag queens and they, intentionally revealing costumes. The gay communities in San Francisco caught on, and then retailers brought it nationwide by producing “sexy” costumes to match the trend.
But again, sexy or slutty? As always, it depends on who you ask. A representative from the Antioch, Illinois, costume shop JJ Blinkers told Playboy that for their customers, it’s not about sexy versus slutty at all. It’s instead a chance for people to show off a side of themselves that’s normally hidden. “Everyone wants to be dressed in something opposite of who they truly are,” JJ Blinkers’ representative said. “So while some consider costumes to be sexy, others consider them playful and fun. Costumes are just that, costumes. They are for dress-up and to make people happy and enjoy Halloween.”
The line between sexy or inappropriate is increasingly blurred, says Brittany [last name withheld for privacy], who has dressed up as Evil Tinkerbell, Harley Quinn and even Toad from Super Mario Bros. She’s seen skimpy Halloween costumes that both are and aren’t fitting for public wear, but she notes that the type of Halloween event can make the difference. She likens it to wearing a bathing suit to a wedding; you dress for the occasion.
The women interviewed here have been called everything from a tease to rape bait, just based on their costumes.
“As long as the costume isn’t offensive or culturally appropriative in any way, I believe that adults should be free to wear whatever they want,” says Ella Donald, a Halloween fanatic from Australia who’s dressing as Wonder Woman this year. Further, she says, these skimpy costumes can actually be quite empowering if it makes someone feel comfortable in their own skin. “I see no harm in dressing in whatever you feel comfortable wearing as a costume,” agrees Jennifer from New Zealand, who prefers homemade costumes for Halloween. “We don’t get after cheerleaders or gymnasts for the costumes they wear regularly, why should we get after those who dress up in a costume one day a year?
Often, people feel more comfortable acting a specific way while wearing a costume than wearing their normal clothing. If you feel comfortable wearing an outfit that shows more skin than you normally would on a regular day, that’s great. Don’t let anyone shame you or force you to wear more or less than what you want.”
Brittany Harper, a Halloween costume enthusiast from Virginia, agrees with both Jennifer and Ella. “A woman needs to have great self confidence to rock some of those costumes and deal with whatever comments and actions come with it,” she said.
Regardless, Jennifer, Ella and both Brittanys are clear on one unfortunate side effect of women feeling empowered in the costumes they wear: men (and other women) often take it as an opportunity to stereotype them. There’s a prevailing sentiment that if a woman is dressed scantily, she’s looking for sexual attention—and as Ella points out, that happens to women every day, though it increases dramatically on Halloween. Some of the women interviewed have been called everything from a tease to rape bait, just based on a costume.
“Halloween seems to be an annual ‘call women sluts’ holiday,” Brittany [last name withheld] says. “But I don’t think that skimpy costumes are inherently slutty, and I don’t think that someone wearing a skimpy costume makes them a slut. It’s Halloween. You’re wearing a costume. I’ve seen men walk around completely shirtless without people blinking an eye. It’s annoying when people use [costumes] as an excuse to treat women in a degrading manner, or when they use that as an excuse to call women sluts.”
Jennifer agrees there’s a huge gap between how women and men are treated while in costume. “You never hear people saying ‘men use Halloween as an opportunity to forget their morals and standards’,” she said.
Janelle Rominski, a Halloween lover from Illinois who dressed up as the Cook County Beverage Tax this year, agrees that the stigma around costumed women needs to change, but overall, she thinks skimpy costumes are slutty and degrading. “I feel women need to find better ways to express themselves instead of being a slutty penguin or similar for the holiday,” she said. “We women have such power to do great things with ourselves. I think dressing like a skimpy Yankee Doodle, or similar, is just ridiculous.”
She says, though, it’s part of an overall problem with the marketing of Halloween costumes—but thankfully we can overcome it. “It’s troubling to know that there are so few appropriately adequate Halloween costumes for women, and young teenage girls are dressing inappropriately,” she says. “It’s strange that the same costumes men and women are given as options vary vastly. For instance, anything hospital-related. Men’s costumes are standard and look authentic. However, [most] adult female costumes are plain old slutty. For goodness sake, if you wanted to dress up as a normal nurse for Halloween, you don’t even have the option to get normal female scrubs [from a costume store]. You have to physically go to a legit uniform store to purchase them. I think there are so many opportunities to be something beyond a slutty character. Think outside the box.”
REMEMBERING THE MOST ICONIC “SLUTTY” HALLOWEEN COSTUMES THROUGHOUT HISTORY
We conducted a completely scientific poll on Facebook, asking women around the world, What’s the most iconic slutty Halloween costume in history? Here’s what they had to say.
The ones that come to mind are the nurse, the maid, schoolgirl and cheerleader. I have a small concern about dressing as sexy schoolgirl.—Jennifer, New Zealand
Definitely the Playboy Bunny and Marilyn Monroe. The times they have come back are countless.—Ella Donald, Australia
Regina George. Jessica Biel’s cat costume. Female superheroes and villains are usually skimpy, like Catwoman and Supergirl. It’s really hard to find costumes that are ready to go that aren’t skimpy.—Brittany, United States
The Playboy Bunny is one of the most iconic skimpy costumes and will always hold that high level of historical notoriety. I also think that the Morticia Addams costume is iconic. It is form-fitting and the plunging V neck is sexy, but there’s a lot of skin that doesn’t show, which makes the costume even more appealing and creates a sense of mystique.—Janelle Rominski, Illinois
Jessica Rabbit. I think that the amount of options for plus-size women is very low. Women don’t feel included in that area. Even “plus size” may only go up to size 18. It says big girls can’t be sexy. But some of the plus-size models out there are showing that you can be sexy, show skin and be who you are—and that is very empowering.—Brittany Harper, United States